Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nick Clegg defeats bid by Michael Gove to let free schools make profits


Nick Clegg has thwarted plans by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to allow the new generation of "free schools" to make profits in the state sector after a massive ideological battle over the coalition's education policy.

The deputy prime minister will on Monday trumpet his success as one of three key victories achieved over Gove, which he says will ensure that free schools have to operate for the "whole community" and not just for "the privileged few" or for profit.

Sources close to Gove admitted last night that the education secretary had been hoping to allow free schools, which are set up by local people but still funded by the state, to make profits in the second term of a Tory-led government.

A Gove supporter said: "Gove has never had an ideological issue with profit in schools, whereas Clegg is ruling it out for ideological reasons."

Previously the Tories have denied that they were planning to allow profits to be made within the state sector by businesses taking over the schools. The admission comes as the first batch of 24 free schools open their doors this week with pupils returning from holiday.

Clegg's aides say he has also persuaded Gove to amend the admissions code from 2013 to allow free schools and academies to give priority to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (those on free school meals). Free schools and academies will be expected to do all they can to ensure that, as a minimum, they have the same amount of pupils on free school meals as the local average.

In a third move, Clegg has won a guarantee from Gove that all of the free schools set up in the next wave will either be in deprived areas or areas in need of more places. Many of the schools in the first wave are being set up in middle-class areas where critics say there is no proven need for extra places. This, opponents say, could mean more resources going to already well-served areas and less to regions in need.

In a speech to teachers, parents and students, Clegg will say he is in favour of free schools, but will add: "I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it.

"They must not be the preserve of the privileged few, creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that."

Clegg feared that his claims to be advancing the cause of social mobility in government would be called into question unless he put his stamp on the Gove plans. He will add: "The coalition has made it clear that our overriding social policy objective is improving social mobility, reducing social segregation; making sure what counts in our society are ability and drive, not privilege and good connections. Free schools will only be acceptable to me and my party so long as they promote those goals."

On admissions policy, he will insist that measures are being taken to ensure disadvantaged pupils get into free schools and academies. "We are also taking unprecedented steps to make sure disadvantaged pupils actually get into these schools. The more of them the school takes, the more money it gets.That's a simple, but crucial, financial incentive.

"No one has reformed the admissions code like this for years. In future, these schools must do all they can to make sure that they have the same proportion of free school meals pupils as the local average – at least."

Ruling out any moves to privatisation or profit-making, he will say: "Let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents. But no to profit-seeking within our state-funded education sector."

Labour's education spokesman, Andy Burnham, last night hit out at rules which let free schools employ non-qualified teachers. "Michael Gove's 'anything goes' approach to school reform is a reckless gamble with standards and the life chances of our children.

"Parents should be secure in the knowledge that all publicly funded schools will employ teachers with relevant training and qualifications."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

India Food Inflation Eases Slightly

India's food inflation rate eased slightly in the week ended March 26, but fell short on market expectations of a bigger relief from sticky prices.

India Food Inflation
The year-on-year food inflation rate fell to 9.18% from 9.50% in the previous week, according to data issued Thursday by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. However, the index of food articles was up 0.4% to 179.5 during the week, from 178.7 in the previous week.

The data will fuel worries that inflationary pressures won't ease sharply soon, firming expectations of a rate increase in May when the central bank meets to review monetary policy.

Indian government bonds slipped after the data, with the most-traded 8.08% paper due in 2022 falling to 100.09 rupees ($2.28) from 100.13 rupees before.

"Inflation is showing signs of downward stickiness and the RBI [Reserve Bank of India] will have to continue increasing rates to bring it under control," said Manoranjan Sharma, chief economist at Canara Bank.

Mr. Sharma said rising crude oil prices will further stoke inflationary pressures, adding to the urgency to tighten monetary policy.

"If oil prices continue to rise the government at some point of time will have to pass on the burden to consumers," which will push up inflation, he added.

Mr. Sharma expects the RBI to increase its two main policy rates by 25 basis points at the next review on May 3 and by 50-75 basis points in 2011.

The RBI has raised its borrowing rate by a cumulative 2.25 percentage points and the lending rate by 1.75 percentage points since March 2010, as it grapples with intolerably high inflation driven by supply shortages and rising demand pressures.

The general inflation rate was 8.31% in February. The central bank has raised its inflation estimate for the end of March thrice, the last time to 8% from 7% at its March 17 policy review.

Economists say the central bank has been slow in anticipating price pressures and that inflation will likely overshoot the 8% projection.

Bank of Baroda Chief Economist Rupa Rege Nitsure expects inflation to accelerate to 8.9% in March, contrary to the RBI's view.

Thursday's data also showed the index for primary articles rose 0.5% to 188.2 in the week to March 26. It was little changed at 12.97% during the week on an year-on-year basis. The fuel products index was unchanged from the previous week at 158.5.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Asian economic recovery solid

Asian economic recovery solid but inflation a risk

Asian economyAsia's developing economies are expected to grow by just under 8% in 2011, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In its annual Asian Development Outlook it predicted that the region would expand solidly over the next two years.

However, growth rates would be slower than in 2010, it said.

And it warned that inflation would pose a challenge for many Asian countries and could lead to social tensions.

The ADB also said that stronger economic links between developing countries could offset reduced demand for goods and services from recession-hit richer countries.

"Developing Asia, having shown resilience throughout the global recession, is now consolidating its recovery and rapid expansion in the region's two giants - the People's Republic of China and India - will continue to lift regional and global growth," said Changyong Rhee, the ADB's chief economist.

Asia, excluding Japan, would grow by 7.8% in 2011 and 7.7% in 2012, down from 9% in 2010 when the region rebounded strongly from the global financial crisis, ADB predicted.

Mr Rhee said despite some short-term trade disruption, he expected last month's earthquake in Japan to have a minimal effect on the region as a whole.

He added that some countries could benefit from increased demand from Japan for construction materials as the country begins to rebuild the areas devastated by the quake.

"Under the assumption there is no further deterioration in the nuclear situation, I really don't think the impact will be that great,"

China and India would continue to drive the global and regional economic recovery, the ADB said.

But, like the rest of the region, the two countries would see slower rates of growth than last year, it added.

Economic growth in China was expected to moderate to 9.6% from 10.3% in 2010 as tighter monetary policy takes effect and as demand for exports in major markets such as the US and Europe remained sluggish.

India's economy was expected to expand by 8.2% in the year to March 2012, down from an expected 8.6% in the year to March 2011.

Mr Rhee said that inflation would be a headache for policy makers in the region as geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and the nuclear crisis in Japan had raised expectations of higher oil prices.

The report said that countries could not rely on tighter monetary policy alone to tackle inflation, but might also have to consider more flexible exchange rates.

Inflation in the 45 Asian economies covered by the report was forecast to rise to 5.3% in 2011, from 4.4% in 2010.

"Developing Asia is home to two-thirds of the world's poor and it is they who are most vulnerable to the effects of price increases," said Mr Rhee.

The report also warned that inflation, especially if driven by food prices, could exacerbate inequality and lead to social tensions.

With Europe, the US and Japan still struggling to recover from the effects of the global financial crisis, the ADB said the region would need to look to other developing countries to foster economic growth.

"Growing South-South relations at a time of modest growth in industrial economies could be a potential new driver of global growth," said Mr Rhee.

"But only if these economies become more open to trade and capital flows with each other."

400 ill by adulterated "kuttu ka atta' floor

Over 400 take ill after eating adulterated kuttu atta

400 ill by adulterated Over 400 people were hospitalized in Delhi and neighbouring cities in Uttar Pradesh with symptoms of food poisoning on Tuesday.

All the patients, who were admitted to different hospitals in the capital and Meerut, Ghaziabad and Bulandshahr, had allegedly consumed adulterated buckwheat (kuttu atta) on Monday night.

In all, 115 people were taken to Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital, Hedgewar hospital and Lal Bahadur Shastri hospital in east and northeast Delhi with complaints of vomiting, stomachache, diarrhoea and dizziness.

Although no one is reported to be in a serious condition, police said they have detained several people in connection with the alleged food poisoning. Separate cases have been registered at Nand Nagri, Kalyanpuri and Mayur Vihar police stations. The state health department has ordered an investigation into the matter.

In Ghaziabad, Meerut and Bulandshahr, at least 150 were admitted to hospitals while 200 others were discharged after treatment. They were also reported to have consumed kuttu atta, a flour used during navaratra, which is under way.

In Delhi, it all started at 7am when several people made a beeline to different hospitals with symptoms of food poisoning. Medical Superintendent of Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital Dr Veer Singh said that the hospital had received 58 patients with abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea. "None of them is in a serious condition. Some have even been discharged," he added.

At GTB hospital and Dr Hedegwar hospital, officials confirmed that they received about 40 patients with similar complaints. "After enquiring from patients we found all had consumed food made from buckwheat, a compulsory ritual for the ongoing Navratra festival," said the official. Some patients were also taken to private nursing homes in the locality.

Police said they have registered a case under sections 272, 273 and 336 of IPC against Nandu Masala Mill, owned by Nand Kishore, 45, located in Mandoli area. Kishore has been arrested in connection with the incident and flour samples from his mill have been seized by the SDM of the area. "Nandu Masala Mill is found to be the manufacturer of the buckwheat flour consumed by the victims.

The District Administration and emergency services have been alerted and teams of Food and Adulteration Department have also been put in service," said Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat adding the victims had purchased the buckwheat in the retail open market. Ten people have been detained in connection with the incident, he said.

"People are advised to check the expiry date of the packet containing kuttu flour and the name of flour mills before using it. They are also advised not to purchase kuttu flour from open sacks," the spokesperson cautioned. The district administration and emergency services have been alerted and teams of the food and adulteration department have also been pressed into service.

Delhi Health Minister A K Walia ordered a probe into the matter and said more teeth would be given to the Food Adulteration Act to include maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a penalty of up to Rs 10 lakh for those involved in such illegal activities."

In Uttar Pradesh, the state's Food and Drug Authority swung into action but after the problem assumed epidemic proportions. By afternoon, at least 72 were undergoing treatment at the Bulandshahr district hospital, 60 were admitted to Ghaziabad district hospital and 24 were at Meerut district hospital.

Following orders from the state government, raids begain across 12 districts of the NCR and adjoining areas and Lucknow on Tuesday evening. In Ghaziabad, police unearthed a small factory in kavinagar area where adulterated kuttu flour was being packed. Police seized 40 bags of flour and arrested 15 labourers from the factory, whose owners managed to flee.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Japan Nuclear Plant

Japan nuclear plant releases radioactive water.

Japanese police
Japan nuclear plant releases radioactive water into sea. Fukushima plant begins to discharge 11,500 tonnes of water into Pacific to make space for more highly contaminated liquid.

The operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant has started breaking its own regulations by discharging 11,500 tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific to make space for more highly radioactive liquid.

The release of water that is 100 times the legal limit is an unprecedented breach of operating standards, but it is considered necessary so workers can concentrate on containing more severe leaks.

The government justified the action as the lesser of two evils. Recent samples of contaminated seawater from the leak show radiation levels at 4,000 times the legal standard.

"We didn't have any other alternatives," the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, told reporters. "This is a measure we had to take to secure safety."

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric, said it would discharge 10,000 tonnes of water from its waste treatment facility and a further 1,500 tonnes that have collected in pits outside reactors No 5 and No 6.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been notified of the discharge. On a website update, it said the Japanese authorities explained the move was necessary "to have sufficient capacity to store highly contaminated water found in the basement of the Unit 2 turbine building".

Tokyo Electric estimates the potential additional annual dose to a member of the public would be approximately 0.6 millisieverts if they ate seaweed and seafood caught near the plant every day for a year. The annual permissible level for the general public in Japan is one millisievert.

Workers have been battling to control radiation leaks since the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant's cooling system on 11 March, leading to a partial meltdown of the reactor.

Earlier attempts to cool the reactor by hosing water from fire engines and helicopters have left pools of contaminated water and flooded basements, hampering the containment operation and efforts to restart the cooling pumps.

Highly radioactive water is seeping from at least one point at reactor No 2, where a 20cm crack has been found in a concrete pit. It is thought to be leaking into an inflow conduit for seawater, but there may be other paths of contamination. Plant workers have started to dye the water a milky white colour so they can trace its route.

At the weekend workers tried and failed to plug the crack by using 80kg of highly absorbent polymer (more commonly used in nappies) mixed with shredded newspaper and sawdust. A previous attempt to use concrete had a similar outcome.

Edano said the situation must be stabilised as soon as possible because a long-term leak "will have a huge impact on the ocean".Critics of Japan's nuclear industry said the authorities were confronted with a dilemma that was unique in the history of nuclear power: whether to keep cooling the reactors and spent fuel or reduce the water being pumped into the plant, which is overflowing the capacity of the trenches.

"As a result of Tokyo Electric's desperate but failed efforts to cool the reactors, they are about to release perhaps an unprecedented amount of radioactivity into the environment," said Shaun Burnie, a nuclear consultant to Greenpeace Germany. "If the Japanese government were to take a cupful of this water and take it outside their territorial waters it would be illegal under the law of sea dumping convention."

As a temporary measure to ease the leak, Japan's nuclear and industrial safety agency has recommended the construction of an undersea silt barrier."A silt fence ensures that mud down deep doesn't seep through," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, Japan's spokesman on nuclear safety.

Officials said the situation is unlikely to be under control for several months. Independent analysts warn it might take years.

Giant concrete pumps are being sent to the area from overseas. The government has also asked Tokyo Electric to look into the possibility of covering the plant with sheets pinned to a steel frame.

But the more radioactivity that enters the air and water, the harder such countermeasures become. Tokyo Electric has said the plant will never recover and some areas are so contaminated that workers cannot get near them.

"I don't know if we can ever enter the No 3 reactor building again," Hikaru Kuroda, the company's chief of nuclear facility management, said on Sunday.

The situation dominated a meeting in Vienna of signatories to the convention on nuclear safety, which was supposed to prevent a repeat of the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl."I know you will agree with me that the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has enormous implications for nuclear power and confronts all of us with a major challenge," Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told participants. "We cannot take a 'business as usual' approach."

Although the nuclear threat has yet to claim a life, it has overshadowed the severe humanitarian crisis faced by survivors of the tsunami, which killed 12,157 people and has left 15,496 missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and millions are still affected by shortages of electricity.

Shahid Kapoor date with VJ Bani

Shahid Kapoor goes on a date with VJ Bani?

Shahid Kapoor date with VJ BaniShahid Kapoor seems to be enjoying his single-again status nowadays.

Even though he has made up with Priyanka Chopra and took her out for a ride on his Harley Davidson a few days back, Shahid Kapoor remains non-committal in the relationship. No wonder he was recently spotted at a Bandra joint, enjoying the food and drinks with VJ Bani.

Bani has confirmed the outing with Shahid. She says that she and Shahid go to the same gym and even work-out together at times.

She goes on to add that she and Shahid were feeling hungry that day and decided to eat out together.

Going by how animatedly Shahid and Bani were chatting, joking and eating, there’s no doubt they are good friends. But is there anything more to the friendship?

Congo Plane Crash

Congo plane crash kills 32.

Congo Plane Crash
Only one person survives after UN plane crashes in Kinshasa while landing in poor weather

Only one person among 33 passengers and crew survived after a UN plane crashed while attempting to land in poor weather in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday.

The accident, in Kinshasa, is one of the worst to involve a UN aircraft. Most of the passengers were UN staff and peacekeepers, although five NGO workers were also on board.

Alain Le Roy, the head of UN peacekeeping operations, said there had been no immediate information about the sole survivor, who is in hospital in the Congolese capital.

The plane, which was travelling from the eastern city of Goma, had missed the runway in N'djili airport in Kinshasa, possibly because of heavy winds, Le Roy said. The Bombardier CRJ-100 jet broke up on impact and caught fire. Television footage showed the aircraft was almost destroyed. A formal investigation into the crash is under way.

While the nationalities of the victims have not been confirmed, the South African government said three of its citizens had died in the accident. The International Rescue Committee, an American aid agency, said its senior reproductive health adviser in Congo, Dr Boubacar Toure, a Guinean, was also among the dead.

The plane was operated and staffed by Airzena Georgian Airways. The company, which has been flying for the UN in Congo for three years, said its four crew members, all Georgians, had died, and expressed shock at the accident.

The UN security council has sent its "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims.

With 19,000 troops, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is the world's largest, and is reliant on air transport as the road network is inadequate.

Congo has one of the world's worst aviation safety records, mainly because of the fleet of old and often poorly maintained aircraft that serve the civilian population.